Sunday, 13 May 2012

Westerly Centaur

Today we had a light force two from the south west out of a beautiful blue sky. The sea (high tide at lunchtime) was emerald in colour and the entire sailing community of Jersey were out on the water. Time for another trip in the Kayak or a visit to a boat I had heard was for sale.

The visit to the boat won the day and so I spent the afternoon crawling over a Westerly Centaur. These vessels were produced in huge numbers in the UK and many were exported to the USA. They have a reputation as strong seaboats and although built in GRP, they are considered to be ‘Classic Craft’.

The Westerly Company was established in the 1960’s by an ex-naval officer D.A.Rayner. He originally designed and built a vessel for his own use and later began producing derivatives of the original design. The most famous of the boats to come from the Westerly yard was the Centaur. Interestingly enough the Centaur was not one of his, she was actually designed by Jacks Giles of the Laurent Giles design partnership.

At the time, she was described as a ‘proper gentleman’s yacht’, but one of the attractions for me is the fact that she packs a powerful 25hp diesel within her hull. She might not look it but she is pretty much a motorsailer, capable of much more than I will ever have the nerve to use her for. At 26ft overall length, she has lots of accommodation, and as a bilge-keeler she can sit upright and comfortable on the mud.

So, what did I think of her? Well, I was impressed by her size. In fact, I decided she was just a touch too big! I came away with a number of real concerns.

The mast height was such that raising and lowering would probably be a major undertaking for one person. I’m sure there are people out there who, by the judicious use of ropes, pulleys and wires, may have developed a slick way of carrying out the operation but, without a crane and with the boat on the water, I don’t think I would ever feel comfortable doing it.
She was also at the top end of my price range so there wouldn’t be much left for commissioning.

And finally -Although these vessels have and outstanding reputation, (reflected in the prices they command) they do have one serious design flaw which only became apparent long after they were built. They were one of the first commercially produced bilge-keel boats. In fact Laurent Giles &Co was commissioned to design this vessel largely because of the experience they had in tank testing various keel configurations at Southampton University. Unfortunately, the Centaur design is such that when the vessel takes the ground, the full weight of the hull is taken by the two keels. The angle that the keels make with the hull is such that many keels have cracked or broken along the join. A Centaur with a history of deep water mooring will be OK, but a vessel kept on a drying mooring or laid-up on the hard each winter could give you expensive problems. It is certainly not a job I would feel confident to tackle.

So, although interested, I walked away pleased that I had heeded John Almberg’s advice posted on this blog the other day. (John Almberg is the author of ‘The Unlikely Boatbuilder blogspot’)

I reproduce it here because the importance of it may help influence others on the same journey.

Buy a boat small enough so that you can afford (time + money) to not only maintain her, but improve her over time. Size and condition matter…a small boat with a sound hull and deck is the best starter boat.

Don’t bite of more than you can chew with pleasure.

It is a buyers market…never think that there is any urgency about a particular boat. However nice she is, you can find another one next week you’ll love just as much.

Wait for a boat that’s ½ the money you can afford, so you have the other ½ left to fix her up and fit her out.

Westerly Centaur
L.0.A.: 26ft.
L.W.L.: 21ft. 4ins.
Beam: 8ft. 5ins.
Draft: 3ft.
Working sail area: 341sq ft.
Designers: Laurent Giles & Partners Ltd.
Builders: Westerly Marine Constructions Ltd.